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Dueling Banjos

by

Eric Weissberg and Steve Mandell



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

This was written and recorded in 1955 as "Feuding Banjos" by the Country star Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith. A group called The Dillards popularized the song in the mid '60s on the Folk circuit, and it was their version that the author James Dickey heard and thought would fit nicely in the film version of his novel Deliverance. The song became famous when it was used in the 1973 movie in a scene where a city guy from Atlanta trades licks with a young simpleton in the backwoods. The film version was performed by Eric Weissberg on 5-string banjo and Steve Mandell on acoustic guitar. Weissberg and Mandell were Folk musicians from New York City, but their musical inspiration was the Bluegrass sound of Appalachia. Weissberg had been playing in Folk bands since the '50s, and was a popular studio musician who played on Judy Collins' albums. Mandell had been with the Phoenix Singers and was also an in-demand session pro. When the song became a hit, Arthur Smith had to file a lawsuit to get credit for writing it.
By the '70s, Folk music was more of a niche genre; gone were the days when The Kingston Trio or Peter, Paul and Mary could reach the top of the charts with a true Folk song. This song had tremendous nostalgic appeal to listeners who fondly remembered those days, and to younger listeners, it was a quirky and fun new sound. Weissberg and Mandell seized the moment and formed a band that they called Deliverance. They played state fairs, colleges and other assorted venues, and made several TV appearances, playing "Dueling Banjos" until the novelty wore off.
This song was recorded two years before the movie was released. It was the first track on the soundtrack for the film, and the only newly-recorded song. The rest of the soundtrack was made up of songs recorded in 1963 by Eric Weissberg and Marshall Brickman and released on an album called New Dimensions in Bluegrass.
Largely as a result of its use in the movie, this in often associated with country bumpkins. The first few notes are often used in movies and TV shows to imply a hillbilly mentality.
The Dillards version of this song that gained popularity in the '60s was titled "Duelin' Banjo," which makes more sense, as there's only one banjo in the song. The Weissberg/Mandell version used in the movie was retitled "Dueling Banjos."
This song has been used in TV commercials for Toyota and Mini Cooper. It was also used in a popular Showtime promo.
Eric Weissberg and Steve Mandell
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Comments (20):

On April 29th 1973, "Dueling Tubas" by Martin Mull and Orchestra entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #99; it only stayed on the chart for three weeks, peaking at #92.
- Barry, Sauquoit, NY
On January 7th 1973, "Dueling Banjos" by Eric Weissberg & Steve Mandell entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; and on February 18th it peaked at #2 (for 4 weeks) and spent 14 weeks on the Top 100...
And on February 11th it reached #1 (for 2 weeks) on Billboard's Adult Contemporary Tracks chart...
The four weeks it was at #2 on the Top 100; the #1 record was "Killing Me Softly With His Song" by Roberta Flack...
Mr. Weissberg celebrated it 74th birthday five months ago on August 16th and I've scrounged the internet and can't find any info on Mr. Mandell's age.
- Barry, Sauquoit, NY
I've often wondered why it's kept top secret where 2 famous scenes were filmed - dueling banjos and the rape scene. I'm familiar with the 10 miles stretch of river and have visited there even meeting and eating with Billy Redden. However I see people ask where dueling banjoes was filmed - and the only response they get is in 100 mile area - not the actual location. The film was shot in sequence so I assume the rape scene was likely half way down the 10 mile trip. The rape scene was very historic - but I guess because of the nature of the scene nobody is allowed to ask where it was filmed except "it was filmed somewhere along a huge stretch of river." Thanks.
- jeff, for lauderdale, FL
Good song. Trey, it was also filmed in South Carolina.
- Hank, Jane, MO
For the definitive & vastly superior version with exceptionally talented musicians, listen to the original "Fueding Banjo's" by Arthur 'Guitar Boogie' Smith & the great Bluegrass picker Don Reno.
- Jerry, Holden, MA
Interesting Hanks was in Happy days, with Ron Howard. I just heard the Dillards (The Darlings)do this insrumental in an episode of Andy Griffith. One of the early '60's B&W's where Mr. Darling declares for Aunt B. I had thought it original music to "Deliverance". Learn somethin' new everyday! Li'l Ronnie sang a version of "Ole' Dan Tucker" with Andy in the same episode.
- David, Durham, NC
Billy Redden ,the kid supposedly playing the banjo was on the Blue Collar 'comedy' show with Foxyworthy and those guys one time.This is a great instrumental maybe only second to "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" in greatness.
- Mark, byrdstown, TN
I've never heard of anyone commenting on this but for what its worth, in the soundtrack of Dueling Banjos used for Delivernce, Weissberg is using the classic Scruggs 3-finger banjo picking style, however, if you look at the kid's hands, he's trying to play the banjo clawhammer style. Given the rural setting, and perhaps the somewhat out of the mainstream location, my guess is that if that was real, it would been played the older more traditional clawhammer banjo style. Anyway, that was a movie blooper that escaped the director's notice. And believe me the two styles sound quite different.
- zenfit, somerset, NJ
The film, Deliverance, was filmed in the north Georgia mountains on the Chatooga river. The are would be north-east of Clayton, GA.
- rick, atlanta, GA
Actually I was wondering if anyone knows excately where Dueling Banjos was filmed, State, county road name? Any help is welcome, thanks!!
- William, Chicago, IL
Drum Corps The Madison Scouts played this in their 1975 championship show.
- Brandon, Morristown, TN
Martin Mull did a version of this called "Dueling Tubas".
- Dave, Scottsdale, AZ
All I did was google 'dueling banjos' and I got hit after hit from the dueling banjos scene from 'Deliverance." There seems to be a conflation of the composition with the scene. I was certain that there was a composition before there was a film, confirmed by this site. The search was prompted by my husband who, when he said he was from the sticks, a man hummed the first few bars. We're new arrivals from Louisiana to Boston. So, yes the hillbilly association seems universal. In fact, I hummed it and asked if it was the one as soon as he told me. I immediately knew. Considering the content of the film, it hardly evokes simple 'hill-billy-ism" to me. It evokes the dangers we may be prey to whenever we're in a strange place, and we rely on our sophisticated city-folk ways. So, the tune has become synonymous with the dangers that city people face, especially when we underestimate the intelligence/cunning of a person with southern or 'country' accents and ways, and equate them with stupidity. Actually, it has been my experience that the assumption that I am stupid can work to my benefit. It's not the snake in the tree at eye level that is the most dangerous; it's the one in the grass at our feet.
- Virginia, Lafayette, LA
Billy Redden, also showed up in a cameo role in Tim Burton's "Big Fish", playing what else... the banjo.
- LobstaRock, Boston, MA
Ronnie Cox, who mimed the Guitar (and feigned a double-jointed death in the river) in DELIVERANCE is now playing the character of the recurring slimy villain Senator Kinsey on TV series STARGATE SG-1.
- Leah, Brooklyn, NY
Although it's called "Dueling Banjos" it's a duet between a banjo and a guitar. It's really top and I regret I don't hear it very often on the radio. You can call it an everlasting song.
- Teresa, Mechelen, Belgium
According to IMDb (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0068473/), the boy was actually Billy Redden, who could not pick a banjo. His hand movements were portrayed by "another youngster". Tom Hanks does not appear in the full credits. Hanks' movie career started in 1980, 8 years after Deliverance. In fact, his first TV appearance was Happy Days in 1974.
- Karen, Dallas, TX
the actual kid playing the banjo was a young Tom Hanks
- pete, nowra, Australia
The characters in the movie that mimed it were Ronny Cox (Drew Ballanger)- Guitar and Billy Redden (Lonny)- Banjo... This info has come to me from my father who knows Billy and met Burt during production of the movie. I live in northeast GA where it was filmed....
- Trey, Dillard, GA
In the actual movie, the kid didn't actually play the banjo. It was played by someone else using a hand through his shirt.
- Craig MacDonald, Blair, Scotland
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